Writing the first draft can be intimidating even for the most experienced writers! Transferring an idea that seems crystal clear in your own mind down onto paper or a computer is hard work. After all, novels don't just pop out of thin-air. They're constructed over arduous months, sometimes even years! And that's not even taking into account the self-doubt that becomes the initial road-block.
Why would anyone care about my story? I'm no Stephen King. No one is going to buy a book about...
READ THIS QUOTE.
“For me, it’s always been a process of trying to convince myself that what I’m doing in a first draft isn’t important. One way you get through the wall is by convincing yourself that it doesn’t matter. No one is ever going to see your first draft. Nobody cares about your first draft. And that’s the thing that you may be agonizing over, but honestly, whatever you’re doing can be fixed…For now, just get the words out. Get the story down however you can get it down, then fix it.” — Neil Gaiman
I recommend sticking it to the wall of your office (or wherever you write) and reading it out loud every day until that little voice in your head stops badgering you so often. If you're passionate about the story, then tell it. If it matters to you, it will matter to someone else.
But I hear you: "Skye, you've published four books in a year. You don't understand how long a first draft can take." I promise you, I do. Too often we compare ourselves to other authors. So remember, everyone's journey is different. Just like you, I've suffered through the self-doubt. Not to mention, you should have seen how many rewrites my first book had! And even after those rewrites? My first book was not as good as my second, or my third, or my fourth. And you know what? That's okay! I'm still growing, and so are you.
Remember that you're on your own journey and it will never be the same a someone else's, but we all struggle, we all doubt, and we all have to tell that doubt to "Shut the hell up and let us get back to work."
As Neil Gaiman said in the quote above, nobody is going to care about your first draft. They won't know that you stared at a blank page for three days straight or that your characters name changed FOUR times. They won't know that you wrote an entire scene in the wrong POV or tense. The only thing they are going to care about is that you published a story they can relate to. But before you tell them the story, you need to tell yourself the story. You need to flesh it out as best you can for your own knowledge. You can fix your grammar and plot holes later. You can fill in the [enter description of enormous castle here] scenes later. But if you never start, you will never finish.
Here are my three tips for writing the first draft:
1. Write Every Day
I might sound like a broken record to some of you, but I cannot emphasize this enough: write. every. single. day. Even if it's fifteen minutes while your coffee is brewing, or thirty minutes on your lunch break. Take the time to work on your manuscript. You don't have to have an outline (pantsers I'm looking at you), but you do need to write something. This is where those realistic deadlines come in handy. They will keep you on track and help you develop a habit.
"Exercise the writing muscle every day, even if it is only a letter, notes, a title list, a character sketch, a journal entry. Writers are like dancers, like athletes. Without that exercise, the muscles seize up.” – Jane Yolen
2. Skip Scenes
Did you know it's okay to not write in order or to skip scenes? *gasp* That's right, you can skip around! If you're feeling stuck, just move on. Put some [brackets] describing what you THINK is supposed to happen, and then jump to the next scene. If you're someone who HAS to write chronologically, that's okay too, but don't let yourself be caught up a single scene. You can always come back to it during the editing process. (See the quote below, I swear it's not just my advice.)
“Every first draft is perfect because all the first draft has to do is exist. It’s perfect in its existence. The only way it could be imperfect would be to NOT exist.” ― Jane Smiley
3. Let it be a mess
If you're a perfectionist like me, this step can be difficult. I can already hear you saying, "But Skye, I KNOW that the scene I just wrote needs to change, so shouldn't I go back and fix it?" NO. As Dory says, just keep swimming! Make a note, highlight that section, jot it down in a notebook... basically whatever you need to do to remind yourself, but don't you dare go back and edit that scene until your first draft is complete. You'll have plenty of time later on to fix it, and who knows, perhaps your subconscious knew something you didn't! Letting it be a mess also means not worrying about grammar or typos, there will be time for that later too!
Good luck with your first draft!
Still don't know where to start? Check out Megan Beth Davies article: How to Start Writing Your Novel or Writing a Strong Opening Chapter and follow @The_Writer_Community on Instagram to connect, learn, and grow with other writers.